Tingly • 19 May 2008 • The SnowBlog


So, how often are you reading a rather dense book - albeit a supposedly non-technical one - about developmental psychology & neuroanatomy and you come across something which sends a shiver down your spine? Em recently read a book about how babies' brains develop and what role interaction plays. It's called Why Love Matters - how affection shapes a baby's brain, and it's by Sue Gerhardt. I suspect Em found it interesting from a practical point of view, whereas I think she probably passed it over to me for a more abstract appreciation of its themes. Here is a typical sentence. "Probably the reason we cannot remember our early infancy is because the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and its links to the hippocampus have not fully developed at that time." Well, maybe that's a particularly chewy example. But it's not a romp. Although it is very interesting if you're either monstrously nerdy (comme moi) or a very well-read prospective mother (comme La Em). But then I got to a section about the behaviour of a girl, called Genie, who was locked in one room until she was thirteen, and beaten when she complained. She had never learned to speak and so her brain had clearly developed a very different set of connections from children who use words to assess and influence their environments. She was extremely good at communicating her needs non-verbally and one of the things she was always after were plastic objects, which seemed to fascinate her. One of the researchers who worked with her then tells a truly bizarre and spine-tingling story as follows: "One day we were walking - I think we were in Hollywood. I would act like an idiot, sing operatically, to get her to release some of that tension she always had. We reached the corner of this very busy intersection, and the light turned red, and we stopped. Suddenly I heard the sound - it's a sound you can't mistake - of a handbag being spilled. A woman in a car that had stopped at the intersection was emptying her handbag and she got out of the car and ran over and gave it to Genie and then ran back to the car. [It was a] plastic handbag." And that's the bit that gave me a shiver.


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